Saturday, March 8, 2014

"Rebecca," by Daphne du Maurier

Oh, Rebecca! What a hold you have on our imaginations! I last read the huge bestseller suspense/romance/slightly gothic novel “Rebecca” (Doubleday, 1938), by the romantically named English author (and it is her real name) Daphne du Maurier, perhaps 40 years ago. There was also a classic, very popular movie, directed by Hitchcock, based on the novel. Recently, reviews of a new novel (“Alena,” by Rachel Pastan) loosely based on “Rebecca,” prompted me to re-read the original. (I plan to read the new novel too, and will likely post on it here as well.) This classic novel holds up quite well. Granted, the level of suspense and goth-ness seems tame by today’s standards (but that is fine with me!). And true, the novel is consistently overwritten. For example, there are far too many portentous hints of terrible events to come, foreboding sentences such as (I paraphrase these here from many examples) “I felt a chill, as if something terrible was about to happen,” or “I knew then that nothing would ever be the same after this.” It is also overwritten in terms of its frequent redundant sentences and phrases, such as (again, paraphrased) “I felt all alone, as if I were the only one in the world; no one else was there for me; no one would help me; maybe no one ever would.” But despite these faults, this novel is still compelling, even gripping, and I truly enjoyed re-reading it. The nameless narrator, the pretty but shy and a bit mousy second wife of Maxim de Winter, goes to his magnificent country home/estate, Manderley, after their marriage, and finds that the ghostly presence of his first wife, Rebecca, pervades the house and surroundings. There are many mysterious events and cryptic comments, and the narrator feels she cannot escape the shadow of her beautiful and apparently perfect predecessor. One false but perhaps necessary note is that the narrator is amazingly dense about putting together the various clues about Rebecca’s true character and about the events of her life and death. Mostly this new young wife is intimidated and even, at one point, close to a mental breakdown. The evil housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who was a fierce supporter of Rebecca, seems intent on destroying the second wife. But when her husband encounters difficulties, the new Mrs. de Winter seems to mature and gain in confidence; she becomes strong on his behalf. To say much more would be to spoil the suspense of the novel. I am glad that I re-read this classic novel of romance and suspense, one that has influenced generations of other writers and filmmakers.

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